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Catherine Wong

2021 EXTRAordinary Woman

There are not many people in this world that have the ability to influence others and change the course of their lives and careers. That type of impact is not only rare and moving, but also deserves to be recognized and uplifted in our respective communities. In Boston, there are many extraordinary women who do the work every day to support their communities and continue to give back to our younger generations creating brighter futures. 

Catherine Wong is one of those extraordinary women, whose career has spanned more than three decades in the Boston area. Catherine currently serves on Leadership Brainery’s Board of Directors and has had an expansive, successful, and fulfilling career in the education sector. She is empowering and preparing aspiring Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) and first-generation students for urban teaching careers as well as other career fields with equity at the center. 

Catherine met Derrick Young and Jonathan Allen, co-founders of Leadership Brainery, three years ago, when she invited them to interact with local Boston students at the Youth Leadership Career Roundtable she hosted annually. She immediately felt inspired by their mission to guide and uplift diverse and first-generation student leaders into a broad range of graduate professional schools and careers. Catherine joined with Derrick and Jonathan in their belief that preparing young diverse leaders early in their education would allow BIPOC and first-generation students to not only ensure their financial stability, but to also reinvest into their communities. Leadership Brainery’s overall goal is to create systems change that closes opportunity and wealth gaps in education. Catherine’s work with this nonprofit, as well as her other endeavors involving diversity, equity, and inclusion through Catherine Wong Consults, is truly inspiring. It is clear that all her efforts and goals come from the heart. Catherine's capacity to co-construct with clients and mentees truly highlights her dedication to work with the Boston community. Her pursuits are always looking for innovative opportunities that will benefit students, who, though they have incredible potential, may fall through the cracks, and not always have equitable access or preparation to succeed in higher education and in leadership positions.

During the summer of 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic and racial justice reckonings, Catherine felt the urgency to do more to advocate for and give back to her community, maintaining a focus on youth leadership and educational access. After more than 13 years and with a heavy heart, Catherine left Boston College and the Director of Urban Outreach Initiatives position that she had come to love. As fate would have it, both Leadership Brainery and Boston Public Schools Office of Recruitment, Cultivation, and Diversity Programs reached out to Catherine shortly thereafter. With both entities, Catherine experienced a space that cultivated collective leadership, thought partnership, and cultural wealth. She saw a unique opportunity to bridge leadership and activism in support of “minoritized” students and communities.

Catherine is from the island of Oah’u, Hawai’i, and had the privilege of being raised by extended family throughout her childhood. Catherine has several extraordinary women in her life that have helped shape her career path and the type of person that she is today. Her first teachers were her three “Tai Tai’s”, her great grandmothers. She fondly remembers their love of “talking story”, and sharing their hopes and dreams for their families and future generations. Catherine’s maternal grandmother was a high school public school teacher in Hawai’i, at a time when women did not necessarily work outside of the home. These amazing women influenced Catherine to continually push to the forefront youth voices and agency in education (especially with students of color). She also emphasizes the importance of youth sharing the stories that they feel need to be told. Her heritage and family legacy encourages her to ask the critical and at times difficult questions. The questions Catherine often asks in her work is “How do we activate for justice and equity not some of the time, but all of the time? How do we make equitable and diverse education and opportunities the norm not the exception?”.

Of course, Catherine has several other important influences that have impacted her career journey. Namely, Patricia Arredondo, Ed.D, a former public school counselor, professor at Boston University, and now the President of Arredondo Advisory Group, was the first woman to inspire Catherine to pursue cross-cultural counseling and education as a discipline. Patricia Lowrie, M.S., and Jacquelyn Reza. Ed.D., two women she met at D2K, an annual diversity practitioner convening, helped formulate her interest in supporting women of color in leadership. Specifically, how do women of color lead when they have to continuously defend their competency and abilities, and how do women of color pivot and thrive through change? Catherine, Patricia, and Jacquelyn continue to collaborate together as a multicultural, multi-generational, and interdisciplinary team to develop workshops and institutes that weave together their passions, activism, and professional experiences.

Catherine continues to nurture collective leadership with every endeavor and project she pursues. During our discussion, she frequently emphasized the importance of instilling "Ohana", the Hawaiian sense of belonging and hope, in students and helping them bring that level of intent and care back into their own communities. By encouraging this, she hopes to not only create seats at the table for students, but to also diversify those seats and in turn provide more equitable leadership for our country, whether that be in government, businesses, STEM, or in education.

To say that talking with Catherine was wonderful and enlightening is a massive understatement. It’s clear that she loves her work, the students and people that she mentors, and the lives that she touches every day. An urban teaching fellow alum and current mentee of hers, Kevin Dua, nominated Catherine to be recognized as an EXTRAordinary Woman for the City of Boston, and the praise and impact that he communicated in his nomination made it very difficult to choose anyone else for this prestigious award! She is, as Kevin puts it, “a transformative leader of educating and leading racial equity, inclusion, love, and empowerment for communities and persons throughout Boston.” In the hour-long interview, I was privileged to have with Catherine, I felt empowered and supported as a young woman and student who is pursuing similar work as she. Catherine is looking forward to continuing her Board work with Leadership Brainery and in bringing the power of Ohana and collective leadership to the neighborhoods of Boston. She also remains committed to empowering young students and leaders of color in their careers, education, and life pursuits. Catherine closed our interview with a piece of spoken word that I feel overwhelmingly communicates her passion for her work. She composed this during the pandemic in response to Anti-Asian racism."

“To join in SOLIDARITY across our cultural identities -- that is how WE remove the shroud of silence and stride into our collective power!

Solidarity is support when the struggle bus runs out of gas;

Solidarity is being stealth when resistance is on the rise; 

Solidarity is seizing joy both in solace and in community.”

This piece was written by Mary Grace Gould, Policy Intern for the Mayor's Office of Women's Advancement. Do you know an EXTRAordinary woman in Boston? You can nominate them through our online form.

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